I finished yesterday’s post with a complaint at how male Christianity has difficulty dealing with issues that involve female Christianity. In 2014 it pains me to even write such a ridiculous sentence, but let’s proceed as if there’s something to see here. In today’s post I’ll continue with the problems facing male Christianity by looking at a storm in a teacup over in the Anglican world in Sydney. A couple of years ago the Australian Christian apologist John Dickson wrote a little book called Hearing Her Voice. You’re probably unfamiliar with it so I’ll lift the overview straight from the publisher:
This original short work by scholar and cultural commentator John Dickson presents a new and persuasive biblical argument for allowing women to preach freely in churches.
For those of you not living in the Dark Ages the problem of women preaching in churches stems from 1 Timothy 2:12 which says:
I do not permit a woman to teach or to exercise authority over a man; rather, she is to remain quiet.
Dickson’s persuasive biblical argument is to press ‘teach’ for a meaning in line with his idea that women should be allowed to preach freely in churches. The debate between Dickson and his opponents, which has gone back and forth via blogs and is still going on Facebook and probably in other places which I’m unaware of, argues about whether the word can hold such a meaning, what are the logical consequences of it doing so, whether Dickson’s interpretation holds up against other similar usages in the bible, etc, etc, etc. Blah, blah, blah, blah, blah…
I groan, and I’ve never even read Hearing Her Voice. You see, you don’t even have to have read it to know that Dickson’s evidential approach is the wrong one. Here’s why.
Let’s imagine a tomorrow where Dickson is unequivocally proven right; irrefutable historical evidence is found that his reading of ‘teach’ is correct. Hooray, the truth is out and churches can return to their imagined golden age! Just like it was in the good old days women preach in church, and those churches which refuse them to do so are now on the wrong side of scripture.
The problem with this is that women are not being included because of their talents, their skills, their individual qualities nor even, to put it in the parlance of Dickson, for their voice. Rather, they are let into the clubhouse through the tradesman’s entrance because fortuitously for them it turns out that ancient Christian men were a darn sight more enlightened than their modern Christian brothers. This is a case which advances the cause of women as equal partners in the church not one jot.
Now let’s imagine a day after tomorrow where Dickson is unequivocally proven wrong; irrefutable historical evidence is found that his reading of ‘teach’ is incorrect. Hooray, the truth is out and churches can return to their imagined golden age! Just like it was in the good old days women are forbidden to preach in church, and those churches which allow them to do so are now on the wrong side of scripture.
As can be seen by comparing the two above imagined days, women preaching in church is not a question of unearthing a lost truth, but a moral debate. Whatever ‘teach’ meant to the early Christians has long been superseded by time and space; it is a moot point to a long squared away problem. Our modern world, at least the world I assume the 4 people who read this blog live in, has moved on from telling women what they can and cannot do. That churches are still debating these 20 odd words from an ancient book, with the rightness or wrongness of their interpretation hinging on one word, shows how close modern churches are to consigning themselves to the cultural waste bin.
But as I said yesterday, this is what happens when men look to the bible for what should be done in today’s world. We inherently know the right thing to do. The right thing to do here is to welcome women to preach freely, and Dickson knows this. The wrong way to go about securing that aim is to argue that the bible says it’s OK and to provide evidence to back this up. This is because evidence is itself a moral vacuum. One cannot blithely wander down the path of the scientific method armed with evidence in the hopes of securing a desired moral outcome; the path to success in no way supports the morality on trial while the path to failure silences it like a scalpel across the vocal cords. Dickson and his supporters need to take a long hard look at how their methodology sidelines the very women he claims to be empowering.